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Welcome Back to America

May 14, 2018

It’s been 8 + years since Sage has been in America. She’s almost been around the world and stopped in many wonderful places that some people would call exotic. All those different places have something special and there are many memories wrapped up in the 100s of anchorages. Despite all the amazing places Sage has been we were still excited about visiting a country close to home that much of it we haven’t seen.

The east coast is something Sage and her crew are not all that familiar with. Stories abound of the early history with the arrival of Europeans, the taking of the land, the building of the infrastructure, the conflicts and the celebrations. We on Sage were/are looking forward to poking our noses into as many little nooks and crannies that we can find.

Waving goodbye to friends as we go one way and us another

Our last Bahamian sunset. In actual fact our last tropical sunset

Our adventure began with our departure from Marsh Harbour, Bahamas. Picking a weather window was tricky as we wanted the wind predictions to solidify and give us a good 4 day window in which to get to Norfolk Virginia as we wanted to use the Inter Coastal Waterway (ICW) as little as possible.

We got flung out of Marsh Harbour like a rocket with Sage bucking over the northern swells with a NE wind in her teeth. Sage set out to the north-west on the hunt for the 4 knot north-setting gulf stream. She bucked and shot her way forward throwing water over the bows and the dodger for 36 hours at which time the wind veered to the east a little and dropped from a boisterous 20 knots to 12 knots. Ah perfect you say. However, another 24 hours later we realised the wind was dying and knew for sure that we were soon going to be windless.

Just another lazy day on one of those pristine Bahamian beaches

Windless is OK at times but it’s not OK when ensnared by the Gulf Stream. The combination of current and left over boisterous seas from a good blow are not a good mix. What little wind can be captured in the sail is quickly spilled out especially when the wind is coming from the stern. There the decision was made.

With Southport only 80 miles off the beam we headed inshore using the wind and the motor. 24 hours later and a night arrival in Southport we lay our anchor down having already gone aground first in the anchorage. No problem, reverse and slow speeds meant we got off lucky and we dropped the anchor on Provision’s (a restaurant) doorstep.

1/2 lb of shrimp with corn and chips for $US11.95 – a deal after the Caribbean and Bahamas

Welcome to America!

Wow, we actually made it. 0500hrs, a couple of hours of sleep, clear customs and immigration and we’re ready for adventures in a new (old) land.

Not to bore you with long tales of our breakdown, our arduous motor up the ICW or our suffering from the cold (!) I just want to tell you a few tales of our cultural experiences with modern-day America.

Story Number 1

In almost every country of the world hair dye is an essential product. No matter where one is you can see hundreds of varieties of black dye lining the pharmacy shelves. Of course, in America, it’s not only black but all the other colours of hair dye in the rainbow.

However, for those of you who have met Connie, she hasn’t used dye in 30 years. To let you on to a secret there was a time when she ran for political office that us back room pundits convinced her to dye her hair leaving a white streak at the front fringe. I will say it looked great. Now this didn’t last long as soon after the election she threw out the dye and went au naturel once again.

Well, in almost all countries we visited I could go shopping with Connie and have no trouble finding her no matter how big the store was. All I ever had to do was go to the head of the aisles, look down, see if I could see a white head and if not go to the next aisle until I found her. Well, in America at our first large store I did the same thing. As soon as I saw a white head I headed down the aisle and then realised no, that’s not Connie. Went to the next aisle and low and behold another NOT white-haired Connie. ‘ What’s the matter’ I thought. I can’t find Connie. Ah, I then realised that, no, people in America are not so prone to dye their hair if it’s gray.

Story #2

Just a personal thing but I hate Walmart but one day we found ourselves in a Walmart food store. It was such a huge store that I really needed a road map to find my way around. They weren’t available so using my nose I headed over to the food section. I guess Walmart is now trying to copy Costco by having food tasters in the aisles offering samples of whatever they were trying to peddle.

One food sampler table had a selection of salad with some white creamy substance floating on top. Being a friendly kind of guy I struck up a conversation with the demonstrator. She was a nice enough person to chat with but I was wondering what an 82 year old woman was doing working in Walmart. Anyway, when I asked her what she was offering she started off on a spiel and forgot what she was pushing. She had to glance down at the bottle and see what is was. She then turned back to me and started the spiel again but by the time she came to name the product she had again forgotten! We both laughed as she turned the bottle again and read the label out. I wished her a good day and turning away wondered whether she worked there to pay the rent.

Story #3

In almost every country we have visited we have purchased SIM cards for our tablets. It’s never been a problem and is an essential giving us access to communications, weather, entertainment and blog posting. However, in America everyone expects you to have a tablet registered to a particular service provider as opposed to being independent.

It took some hard negotiating to convince unknowledgeable customer care providers that yes if you sell me a SIM card I can put it into my South African cell phone and/or European tablet and make it work.

Negotiating a good deal is another matter. I have now settled, at least for my tablet, on AT&T’s unlimited data plan for $60/month. Granted there are some slow periods where they will purposely slow down the internet but generally speaking we’re doing well with what we have chosen considering I can use one tablet as a hot spot if we are each working on our respective tablets at the same time.

Unlocked tablets/phones are a godsend.

Story #4

I’ll admit to being a user of Uber. But not having been in a country where Uber operates for the last two years meant that I needed to update my Uber account. I had the log in and the password. I entered these into the system and they wouldn’t let me log in unless I could tell them the details of my last two rides with total cost and where they originated and where they ended. They also wanted my cell phone number from two years ago.

Needless to say, at my age, my memory isn’t that good and when I think about it my memory wasn’t that good when I was 20! To cut short a long agonizing contremps let me just say that 5 days later I was able to activate my account with my new number. Phew!

Story #5

This last story is also short! 48 hours prior to leaving the Bahamas we decided that we were going to be, at some time, on the ICW and that joining Boat US was a good idea.

Having entered the US at 0500hrs, cleared customs and immigration and had a 2 hour nap before we headed north on the ICW. Within miles we had unexpected problems and had to pull over and figure out how to resolve the problem. Not being successful we called Boat US. Boat US to the rescue. Within 20 minutes a tow boat was alongside and they took us back to a marina where they secured a great mechanic, Jason, who got us going in short order.

Wow! $135 membership and the tow was costed out at $250! That is value for money and we still have 11 months to go for help to be on its way.

There are too many positive things to say about being back in America. We have experienced extremely friendly people in all walks of life. Just this morning while having breakfast in a coffee shop in Swansboro, NC, we got talking to a local who told us to try the house specialty which was fruit fritters. We chose a 1/2 order of strawberry fritters and when it came to pay the bill we found that he had bought them for us. What great hospitality.

Ah, strawberry fritters

One of those great American diners with pictures of Elvis, Marilyn and James Dean and the voice of Elvis welcoming you to the women’s toilet and Marilyn to the men’s!

Services couldn’t be better. What a change from the Caribbean to walk into a place where they greet one in a friendly manner, make sure they offer whatever help they can and make sure when you leave you are genuinely satisfied. It happens everywhere and I can’t say enough of how genuine they are and how pleasing it is to experience.

Bahamas – Land of gourmet delights

April 27, 2018

Looking around Marsh Harbour for lunch after a morning of working on Sage we settled on a waterfront delight.

Gourmet highlight – nachos with chicken and melted(?) Cheez whiz. Ummmmm…all for the Bahamian reasonable price of US$17!

Bahamas – land of the the thin long sandy beach and skinny water

April 20, 2018

EXUMAS This is a land (sea) of nothing but water dotted with droplets of rock, coral and sand rarely rising above one hundred feet in a desperate attempt to provide a place to build a shack on. Of course now there are more than shacks. These outcroppings are now owned by some of the world’s glitterati like Little Hall’s Pond Cay owned by Johnny Depp. The cays are isolated, surrounded by sparkling clear turquoise waters and easily accessible by small plane or powerboats only a few hours from Miami. It’s a magical land offering endless possibilities to boaters. Both deep draft vessels and shallow draft vessels can wander for years searching the treasures of tropical waters. There are lots of places to go aground but that’s all the challenge as one wedges the boat between sandbars and coral ledges. One needs good visibility most of the time but the dry climate and almost constant winds provide most days with good visibility. There are both crowded anchorages and places far from the madding crowd but usually moving from one location to another there’s another boat on the horizon. Need help? Call out on VHF Ch 16 and invariably one will get a response. It’s hard to believe that all this exists only a short distance from the Florida shoreline.

The Bahamas is one of the most expensive places to cruise. For all boaters there is the initial charge of $US300 at customs which includes a fishing licence. If you need food supplies, most comes from the American mainland and they are not cheap. However, a boat well stocked that only needs to top-up the fresh fruits and vegetables can make out quite well. Despite this being one of the most expensive places to cruise we’ve spent far less money than almost any other cruising grounds.

How does that work? Well, there are so few places to reprovision in the Exumas that it’s hard to spend a lot. There are only a few places that offer the most basic of restaurants and the only entertainment is the beaches, sand water and sunshine – no theatres, a limited number of bars and no marine stores and a few restaurants. One makes their own entertainment and creates whatever makes it to the table for mealtime. The few centres that offer supplies are Staniel Cay, Georgetown and Highbourne Cay. There’s basically nowhere else to buy stores. And there certainly isn’t local produce available as most cays are uninhabited and if they are inhabited then waiting for the mail boat to bring mainland supplies is where the action is. I think next to the south pacific this is one of the most amazing waters on the planet.

Grace, pictured above, was waiting for us in Georgetown but we had been delayed in San Juan due to weather and arrived three days after Grace arrived. Grace was very patient and in no time we got her onboard and headed out to an anchorage. We managed to get in some good sails and a few different anchorages before saying goodbye. I only hope this neophyte sailor enjoyed her time onboard and made her first step to becoming an ancient mariner

The entrance to Georgetown Harbour is under a bridge and into a land locked lake. Great protection and inside is a convenient dinghy dock complete with fresh water and a grocery store at the head of the docks

Chat and Chill restaurant/bar on Stocking Island provides a venue for sailors to tell long tales and to hang up their old T-shirts! They also have a great volleyball court we got into the habit of joining in for games for a few hours in the afternoons

The wild side of Stocking Island has a nearly deserted beach bordering the Atlantic. This day was exceptional as the wind was from the west hence a calm sea.

2 lost tourists walking down the streets of Georgetown (photo by Grace)

This screenshot is of the southern half of the Exumas with anchors (if you can see them) indicating places we anchored

One of those full moon nights

Sunset reflected in rocks around Rudder Cut Cay

Now this has to be one of the strangest tourist attractions. Tourists even come down on hi-speed tour boats from Nassau to feed the ‘swimming pigs’. If you go to Nebraska do you go to a farm to feed the pigs? I’ll admit I did go but that’s only because I needed a photo for my brother who used to raise pigs.

If you want a laid back vacation on a quiet island surrounded by tropical waters this is it – Fowl Cay Resort – http://www.fowlcay.com

Friends over for dinner

The northern half of the Exumas again with anchors

I just wish we had been around when this three stack BBQ was fired up

Warderick Wells – HQ for the Exumas land and sea park. Unbelievably beautiful and a must see if you are anywhere nearby. Beautiful walks on the cay and interesting snorkeling

The mailboat – the lifeblood of all the communities throughout the Exumas.

And here the best laundromat seen anywhere in the world – courteous, clean, reasonable and the best view while scrubbing those shorts

And here’s the proof

This little guy in Warderick Wells was afraid of nothing. He wanted to climb into my backpack for the water. Unlike George the gecko onboard Sage this guy has a curly tail

Warderick Wells and environs. Lots of skinny water, coral and rock

ELEUTHRA

To escape some westerley weather we left Wardrick Wells and scooted over to Rock Bay at the south end of Eleuthra. Another tricky entrance on to a shallow bank and then a little tricky navigation in to Rock Bay and the town of Rock Sound!

Skinny water continued to challenge us with depths of 5-12ft with scattered rocks and coral. It does take a while to adapt after spending so much time in the deeper waters and anchorages of the eastern Caribbean. However, there’s nothing like scooting over the sand at 6 knots through crystal clear water. I don’t think we have been properly baptised as we haven’t gone aground yet. We did anchor in one spot and dug a little furrow in the sand at low water with the keel gently rocking from side to side.

Our initial glimpse of Eleuthra gave us the feeling of abandonment. Many of the houses were unoccupied, boarded up and rapidly declining. However, our first taste of a well stocked grocery store was here. It wasn’t quite mainland quality but it did signal the change as we move northwards towards what we refer to as La-La Land i.e. North America

We didn’t stay long as we heard there was an Eleuthra Jazz Festival starting on Friday night in Governor’s Harbour, the capital of Eleuthra.

Don’t ask me for names but they were good players from diverse backgrounds and various countries

We had a great evening. The featured musicians were giving a full concert on Saturday night but we joined in for the fish fry and community event on Friday. The musicians played gratis – short performances but very gratifying.

The community jazz event took place next to the library and the building used for the weekly Fish Fry – local seafood and chicken done on the BBQ

The Community Jazz event was held as a fund-raiser for the local library. Outside the building metal geckos were displayed and up for auction. They had been painted by various community organizations such as schools, businesses, art groups etc. I wanted two to mount on either side of our bows but was roundly outvoted.

Painted geckos up for auction at the fish fry.

A quick visit and off again and this time further north to Spanish Wells. This settlement was established back in the 1700s by loyalists. The town is the Bahamian centre for the crayfish trade. Our luck the season closed on April 1st so no special deals on a lobster dinner – aaargh.

Interesting place though. Very skinny water all round and one has to time approaches to the town keeping the tides in mind. For first timers we did OK coming in at low water. A little disconcerting as it gets shallower and shallower with the approach. Once in the channel the water deepens to a healthy 9 feet and in looking around and seeing large fish boats one feels better that if they can get out so can we!

The largest commercial fishboats seen in the Bahamas. All kept in excellent condition

We spent a few days meandering around waiting for the right conditions to make the 55 mile jump to the southern Abacos. Meandering wasn’t quite the word as the best way to get around is do it like the locals

Yup, the golf cart. Not electrical but gas driven. Great way to see what amounts to about 25 miles of roadway.

I think we covered almost the entire area and did our food shopping within the 2 hour hire! The rest we hoofed it.

Being off-season the building of new traps is high on the agenda

Abacos

Time to go:

Quick run up to the southern Abacos from Spanish Wells

I think the day we left Spanish Wells there were at least 20 boats making the same jump. They included both power and sailboats. The weather was good but the wind a little on the light side. And everyone knows that I don’t motor if there’s wind. So, we were the last to arrive making our arrival and dropping the anchor right at sunset – almost 12 hours to do 51.4. I hate to say that we did run the engine for 7 of those hours! We figured that it was only the third time in 8 years that we had run the engine for that many consecutive hours!

Meandering the southern portion of the Abacos

We’re not spending much time in the southern Abacos as it’s tax time! We need to get to Marsh Harbour where can tie up in a marina that has electricity and wi-fi. So that’s where we are as I write this. Forget taxes the blog is more important. Right?

So here’s to paying my taxes which if the truth be known I really don’t mind. Don’t let the beer fool you. I don’t really like beer but having good Scottish blood I can’t face paying the high prices here for a real drink (beer is 5-6 dollars/bottle). That hurts enough when in Martinique I can buy a great bottle of wine for the same price or less!

 

Sage Musings At Sea

March 23, 2018

San Juan, Puerto Rico to Georgetown, Bahamas

March – 1320hrs (off watch)
Exiting from San Juan was nerve racking. For several days enormous northerly swells had been roaring down from the north east slamming into Puerto Rico’s north shore – a surfers delight. However, the waves were breaking on either side of the harbour entrance leaving a 100 metre gap in which to punch through the swell and escape the embrace of San Juan’s harbour. Dramatic especially when there is little wind on which to rely if the engine fails. I think that is every sailors thought, always thinking of ‘what-ifs’. At least that’s me.

Exiting San Juan Harbour through the surf

Escaping the harbour we set out to sea with very light ENE winds, big swell, sunny day and promises of difficulties in keeping the wind in the sails. San Juan recedes in the distance looking like stalagmites in the larger landscape of distant mountains and big seas. Funny how insignificant the city seems when viewed from a receding distance. However, the impact of the city’s waste follows us for miles offshore as the storm surge has swept all sorts of detritus from the shores into the sea. Plastic abounds caught in palm leaves, logs and other garbage. Where will the plastic go this time?
As we roll west like drunken sailors ships come and go reminding us that we really need to install an AIS onto Sage to assist our safe navigation through the Bahamas and up the east coast towards…

March 9th – 1410hrs
Off watch once again looking out at this vast circle of blue that reflects back the rays of sunshine and the blue sky. Flying fish abound free from the fear of marauding birds. Only occasionally does one miscalculate their flight path and crashes onto Sage’s deck. Seems to always happen at night.
Last night was no exception. Leaping out of the water, probably thinking he was escaping being eaten by a larger fish, he careened into the dodger window missing smacking me on the forehead. I heard a whack and getting up to investigate it didn’t take long to not see the critter but smell him. Nothing like smelling a flying fish that is going through all the gyrations of throwing himself back into the water. And they really don’t like to be picked up. Of course, being quite slimy they are hard to hold on to but thinking the wings would be drier I had him. Get him off the deck and wash my hands to rid myself of the smell. Done…he’s free. Free till the next larger fish picks him up on their radar and the flight begins once again.
Amazing this struggle for survival that goes on below Sage’s keel and we’re oblivious to it. We’re not fishing yet. I don’t really like to fish until we’re closer to land where, if I catch a large offshore fish, I can use it to trade for some favour from a local. Usually offshore fishing brings in fish too large for 2 people to consume before it starts smelling like a flying fish on deck. We don’t have a freezer and hell we have enough supplies on board to last a few months.
Today the wind is light (7kn) and we drift along at 3-4 knots enjoying the fact we can read, cook, walk around and be comfortable for a change. The number of times we’ve able to do those things on a flat deck since leaving Grenada in November have been very limited so we’re enjoying this lazy sail for as long as it lasts.

March 9th – 1700hrs
Wind has settled in from the SE providing enough for us to travel at 6knots. However, off to port lies the Dominican Republic and dark, large heavy clouds gather over the mountains and there’s deep growling coming from the clouds. Ominous I would say and I don’t like the idea of a rainy storm filled night. Lightening is one of my most feared phenomena at sea. Too may boats we know have been hit and right now I just want to run away and hide!
Being philosophical though I guess this is as good a place to be as any other. The wind blows gently, a gorgeous sunset is in the making, the sea state is relatively quiet and Connie has been hard at work conjuring up a pork and eggplant curry.

March 10th – 1230hrs
Wow, what a night. Ran smack dab into a frontal system. Felt like we ran into a brick wall driving a Ferrari at a speed way beyond what those cars should be driven at. We first heard the thunder over to portside on the DR coastline. We chuckled thinking we were north of the disturbance but after dinner the skies clouded, the wind circled the clock, the rain drove down like pellets, the lightening was like a strobe light and the thunder made it feel like we were inside a taiko drum in a world competition. If that wasn’t enough 2 ships appeared off our starboard side. We were able to call them and despite us being less than a ¼ mile away they saw us on neither radar nor by naked eye. Not surprising as the rain pelted down and we had limited visibility. The strobe cut through it all and the ships picked us up right away. Just another reminder that we need AIS.

Today our 2 foresails are deployed fully spreading white canvas like butterfly wings. We rock and roll downwind and see another boat(Presto) off to port. Call them up, trade stories on last night’s light and water show and discover we’re both headed the same way. So just the two of us out here trying to trap the wind to push us north-westward.

Stretching off to the northeast are the Turks and Caicos, lying in a circular jewel of turquoise water and coral. It beckons strongly but does not have a great reputation for welcoming yachts – expensive cruising permits, very expensive supplies and unwelcome to yachtie-trash like ourselves! Ah well their loss…we had our fill of champagne, caviar and baubles in St. Barts so let’s move on.

March 11th – 1515hrs
This morning felt like torture. We hadn’t sailed well last night. It’s our fault. We didn’t have the right combination of sails up and we simply didn’t make the miles we should have. Normally this wouldn’t be so bad but the seas were very uncomfortable, our energy levels low and it was dark as hell reducing our initiative to do something about it. Sometimes sailing just isn’t made to be fun.

This afternoon we make slow headway with a SW wind (where did that come from?). Sun shines, the water on deck is warm for a shower and drinks are on the agenda in the late afternoon. Still, I just want to get there.

March 12th – 1345hrs
Ups and downs of sailing are vicarious. Some times things don’t seem to go in ones favour. For this trip we’ve had light winds, contrary winds, favourable winds, very strong winds and now we find ourselves battling increasingly stronger contrary winds and we’re only 60 miles from our destination with a front approaching, rain on the way and winds that aren’t producing comfortable conditions.

It’s simply hard to be positive all the time. And what do we do to hide our disappointments from others onboard. It’s impossible. Moods go up and down and we just have to take those into account and do the best we can to be positive. It helps us to keep going.

Arrival – crystal clear waters and a bottom that can be seen with and anchorage in 2 metres.

San Juan – Puerto Rico

March 5, 2018

How did we end up in San Juan, Puerto Rico? Ummm, this was not a planned stop but when we were sailing by it was either keep going in uncertain winds or stop in San Juan. Stopping didn’t sound so bad considering to sail west from Fajardo had been a little stressful what with shallow seas and breaking waves threatenjng to roll us onto our beam ends.

The entrance to San Juan was not wide but what thrilled us was the fortifications at the port side entrance that has beckoned to sailors for 6 centuries. The picture below is of the current governor’s home and the red portals are the original western gates to the old city where sailors anchored and entered the city. This would be a great place to anchor today but it’s prohibido!

The fortifications stretch for miles and are partially destroyed through successive centuries – not from warfare but simply through the growth of the city. Walls were torn down to make way for the expansion of the city to the east and south. It leaves the old city behind the walls intact for the most art. Below is the governor’s mansion at night.

Now the old city is a mecca for the cruise ship industry. It is the one place we’ve seen that can effectively absorb passengers from 4 cruise ships at a time. Streams of people flood the streets but the jewellry shops, restaurants, art galleries and historical moonuments absorb the influx and one can still find quiet places within the fort itself or in some small quiet green spot to contemplate the history this place represents.

Not only do the cobblestone streets absorb the tourist but many of the original fortifications remain providing glimpses of what protected this area for so many centuries. Guard towers ring the fortifications providing beautiful views over the north Atlantic Ocean.

The lighthouse continues to welcome sailors into the harbour and one is not to be disappointed by the range of things to see and do in San Juan let alone the rest of the island.

The National Parks maintain tbe old fortifications and it easily takes a day just to walk around what’s left of the old fort.

And views both into the inner bays of San Juan harbour and

Views into the old city

And nighttime strolls tbrough the back streets of a 16th Century town

And more daytime strolls

And

And

And

And

But what of San Juan today. Despite damages from two hurricanes in the 2017 summer season, Hurricanes Maria and Irma, the lights are back on (with very occassional black outs), and life is returning to normal while repairs to infrastructure continue. One can see some of the damage even in high end places like Paseo Caraibe with windows blown out of penthouses and torn balcony railings.

But for the most part San Juan continues to function well. This is our first big city since leaving South Africa more than a year ago. We’re enjoying seeing a city with bike paths, a public transportation system that costs .35c/senior, art galleries, theatres and an incredible array of restaurants and great places to buy food. Not only are there art galleries of high quality but in many places art adorns public and private spaces.

And

And

And

We’ve wandered the streets, walked the beaches, sampled the food, gone to the theatre talked to the people and are always amazed at the diversity, the pride of the Puerto Rican people, the quality of the food and the determination to make things work. Before I end this I do want to mention a visit to the hotel Vanderbilt located in Condado. Our evening guide on a tour of the old city recommended a visit. I am sure it’s not a hotel we could afford to stay in but we sure had fun walking through, sitting in the bar and generally getting a good feel for the place. It’s a mixture of Art Deco and modern; blending the two perfectly. Below are a few photos and I am sure you can go online to see more if you feel your wallet can afford a few nights of luxury.

And

And

Blessed with good winds (unlikely) we hope to be in the Bahamas soon.

Racing Through the Islands

February 23, 2018

We’re on a roll. Having had a great visit with our friend Sue travelling from Martinique to Dominica and on to Guadeloupe we thought it best to get our act together in order to meet our deadline of being in the Bahamas by March 10th. With limited time we were going to have to race through areas of the Caribbean that many rave about; names such as St. Barts, St Marteen, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and many more. We just don’t have time to meander so we pushed off from Riviere Sens in Guadeloupe hoping to make a stop in Montserrat. Sailing was vigorous with winds in the high teens with seas on the beam. Prominent on Montserrat is an active volcano with clouds of steam rising from the Soufriere Hills. These clouds of gaseous steam can be seen from Guadeloupe and Antigua.

Approaching Montserrat the volcanic activity kept our minds off Sage’s rock and roll environment and the salt water spray cascading over the decks. Closer and closer we came and the more in awe we were as we watched from Sage’s deck. We kept to the outside of the 2 mile marine exclusion zone but that still gave us great views of the volcanic activity.

The church is almost completely buried

 

Dramatic volcano on Montserrat

The lee side of Montserrat provided a smooth water slide up the lower half of the west coast with spectacular vistas of the extent to which the volcano changed the quiet life of Plymouth. Half buried churches, boulders the size of houses, mountains of debris flows like rivers down the slopes amongst hundreds of abandoned homes. Wanting to spend the night on the west coast we proceeded northwards but the wind was whipping up the seas on the northwest coast so we abandoned the thoughts of more volcano exploration and set our sites for another 30 miles to the west before getting to an open anchorage on Nives.

From Nives we quickly moved on to St. Barts for a hit of the high life. An old Dutch settlement that fell into French hands and now boasts stores like Hermes, Ralph Lauren and numerous bars and restaurants to while away your time while onshore from your luxury yacht. Have never seen so many super yachts anchored in one place at one time. We counted 8 luxury motor yachts in the anchorage one night. For us the anchorage was one of the worst. We were thrown from one bulkhead to another in one of the worst anchorages in the Caribbean, next to Les Saintes in Guadeloupe. The glitterati had their stabalizers out onboard their 80 foot+ yachts and were drinking champagne on the aft deck.

 

Lined up waiting for the caviar and fried chicken!

Loading up on Hermes travel bags and Gucci deck shoes we hurriedly left the anchorage for the British Virgin Islands. And what a ride. 25knot winds on a broad reach which should be great. However, the sea state left us relieved to arrive in Cooper Island at 0600hrs. We stopped, had breakfast, a sleep and then set sail for Road Town for clearance. One look at the anchorage for customs and immigration clearance sent us scurrying to Soper’s Hole at the west end of Tortola.

Sopers is now where we sit with 30 knots of wind pushing us around the anchorage which is littered with mooring buoys set in place by MoreSeacure ($30/night), the scourge of the BVIs. They have covered the bay, and other bays in the BVIs, with mooring buoys making it difficult to anchor without getting tangled up in one of their buoys. My philosophy is if we get tangled up in one of their buoys I have no qualms about cutting their buoy away. I am not paying $30/night to anchor Sage in a bay that only has, in this season, 3 boats in the bay at night and no services ie water, fuel etc. This is my pet peeve as you can tell but it is something that is increasingly evident throughout the Caribbean.

We rented a car yesterday and toured the island. Everywhere evidence of the devastation of last season’s 2 hurricanes could be seen; hurricane Irma and hurricane Maria. There is destruction everywhere. In Soper’s Hole there were three marinas and numerous businesses. There are now no fully functioning marinas and only 2 businesses up and running; D’Ats Coffee and Pusser Landing. Everything else is closed due to extensive damages. What was a thriving destination with numerous services is now catering only to boats coming in to clear customs and immigration. Last night there were only 3 boats that stayed overnight with everyone else moving on. Customs/immigration doesn’t even have a building – their offices are a tent with free air conditioning!

As for the rest of Tortola, everywhere shows the strain of recovery. Damaged roads, businesses closed, yachts scattered in the mangroves, abandoned homes, roofs torn off, hurricane anchorages (?) littered with the skeletons of yachts on their sides or upside down (catamarans). For everyone its catastrophic and will take years to recover and clean up.

For us the worst to see is people who owned boats here and lost them in the hurricane who have done nothing, or the insurance company has done nothing, to take responsibility for cleaning up the remains. We as sailors must take responsibility for cleaning up what was ours instead of leaving it to the locals to deal with and to pay for the costs.

Very sad for sailors to see. Everywhere in the US and British Virgin Islands there were boats in trees, piled in middle of lagoons, in the mangroves and on the edge of the roads. Clean up is slow.

From here it’s on to Puerto Rico where expect to see more impacts from last seasons hurricanes.

Dominica Revisited

January 28, 2018

Heading north in mid January we were keen to visit Dominica once again. We had visited Portsmouth twice before in the previous season; one time going north through the windward chain and again heading south to escape the 2017 hurricane season.

The 2017 hurricane season was not kind to Dominica. Hurricane Maria cut a swath of destruction travelling up the centre of the island destroying much in its path. Being in Grenada at the time left us feeling helpless to assist other than providing cash donations to organizations busy organizing goods travelling northwards by boat.

One of just a few damaged buildings in Portsmouth

Lunch anyone?

During the next few months before leaving Grenada stories of piracy, looting and desperation circulated through the cruising fleet which was readying themselves for the upcoming cruising season.

There was no way to verify the reports other than to keep our ears open for the most recent news. Leaving Grenada in November we slowly made our way north and in both Carriacou and St. Lucia we met up with Martin from Dominica.

Martin from PAYS

Martin was travelling through the windward islands as a representative of the Portsmouth Association of Yachting Services (PAYS) encouraging the cruising fleet to stop off in Dominica.

PAYS helps out visiting yachts with moorage on newly installed mooring buoys, tours of the island, water, supplies and numerous other items that boaters are always in search of.

Despite dire warnings of possible piracy on the Caribbean Safety and Security Net (CSSN) we found no verifiable information on any such attacks but the negative reporting has kept boats from visiting.

We arrived in Portsmouth late January 2018 and could not have had a more welcoming visit. Yes, the island still has a long way to go to recovery but vegetables are in the market, some fruits will soon hit the stores, communications (internet) are on their way and the hillsides are starting to green up. The people are as welcoming and friendly as always and, of course, everyone wants to talk about their experiences – one way to work through their tragedy.

We had a great tour up the Indian River with Eddison. The Indian River was badly

Connie, Eddison and Sue at the Indian River Bar

damaged from the floodwaters with trees down, the thick canopy ripped apart and a few wrecks at the entrance. Out of disaster comes a changed landscape that will provide plants otherwise unseen along the river before, due to a dense canopy, a chance to thrive. Eventually the canopy will again cover over the river and dominate.

We arrived in Dominica late in the day and were distressed to see so few boats in the anchorage. Tourism isn’t big in Dominica and for Portsmouth the yachting community offers a sorely needed business opportunity to get money circulating in the local community. If anyone in the yachting community reads this blog and is in the vicinity please stop by and offer your little bit to help them recover. As a cruiser with a little bit of flexibility with regards to time you can help directly with clean ups and reconstruction on damaged buildings and replacing roofs.

A garden fully recovered